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  • Writer's pictureAilie Brown

Wildlife Identification with Speyside Wildlife

Ailie is part of our current cohort just coming to the end of their Wildlife Identification in the Cairngorms qualification and the assessment day is looming on the horizon in April! With this in mind and our 2022/23 course starting next month, we asked her to tell us about her experience of the course and what led her to sign up!

Why did you apply for the course?

“I had seen the course advertised a couple years previous and finally decided to apply for the course starting 2021/22. I applied for the course, with the intention of gaining knowledge and the skills required to pursue a career in anything Wildlife related. I was also pleased to receive a grant from the Lantra Women in the Rural Economy Training Fund.”

Our 12-month course was established in 2017 and is split across seasonal weekends and here Ailie gives you an idea of what to expect over the year.

The Introductory Weekend

“The first weekend of the course was mid-April, and we had a mixture of snowy showers and beautiful sunshine. The classroom day was spent getting to know the course, the instructor Roy and fellow classmates. It’s a beautiful setting at Inshriach, surrounded by woodland and a well looked after garden. Inside, there’s a toasty wood burning stove and delicious coffee and cake on our breaks. We were lucky enough to have a spell of sunshine and lots of birds singing on our lunch. As we all sat outside, Roy immediately started giving us pointer’s and we were already learning!

On the second day of our Introductory Weekend we ventured out in minibuses to several locations known for birding. Roy our instructor, was joined by a couple of other guides from Speyside Wildlife too. We had short walks to viewpoints over local lochs, where we spotted Golden Eye, Teal, Tufted Duck and heard crossbills calling above. We had a practice of drawing in our field notebooks and learning how to identify the species we saw. I know I asked so many questions and didn’t know I was looking at a Tufted Duck until I was informed, but Roy and the other guides, Kate and Simon, were so encouraging and answered everything we all wanted to know! We spotted lots of other species in the afternoon including Lapwing, Osprey, Jay, Greylag Geese. Safe to say I went home exhausted and already looking forward to the Spring Weekend and the learning to come.”

The Spring Weekend

“During the Spring Weekend in May, we learned a lot about what all the spring migrants were and learned all about bird song. Our classroom day was fun and interactive and we got to know each other better. We had a great session outside trying to pick out individual songs amongst the chorus of singing birds – spring is my favourite season, and I was really excited about our field day and it did not disappoint! We saw some really special species, including Redstart, Slavonian Grebes, Kingfisher and Red Grouse to name a few. I came away from the Spring Weekend feeling very refreshed and ready to get to grips with my notebook.

I had some great walking holidays over the summer and it was a great opportunity to really learn bird song and get in a lot of practice drawing birds. It’s safe to say that the walks took a very long time!”

The Summer Weekend

“We really lucked out with great sunshine on our Summer Weekend. There were lots of lovely wildflowers, butterflies and more Common Blues than I’ve ever seen in one place before. That was just the start, we travelled through the valley, stopping in lots of different places. In the fields we spotted Curlew chicks, Grey Partridge, little Lapwing chicks, and Red Kite above. Swifts, nesting Dipper, Sandpipers, Oystercatchers and a Common Tern all spotted on the river. The further in the valley we went, the more we saw. Through the telescope we spotted Ravens, Golden and White-Tailed Eagle and Peregrine Falcon. The conifers we stopped next to had Bullfinch, Woodpecker, Spotted Flycatcher and we even heard some crossbills. And on the way back in the vans, we stopped one last time to admire a herd of Red Deer an Osprey flew over and a Kestrel was spotted hovering, just to complete our collection of raptors for the day. I couldn’t keep up with my notebook and had to write everything down on the drive back.”

Autumn weekend

“After the Summer Weekend, everything went quiet and learning bird song was a bit tricky. However, getting more confident in identifying our resident birds is where I concentrated my notes and at home study. The Autumn Weekend was more focused on mammals and migrations. I really enjoyed the classroom day and began to get excited about our autumn and winter visitors arriving, a few of us decided to book into the Evening Mammal Watching Hide the evening before and after 20 mins or so, we were greeted with Badgers, all foraging and occasionally bickering with each other. Then not one, but two Pine Martens appeared! It was very exciting!

Our field day although quiet and a bit rainy, was filled with lots of wildlife and a beautiful forest. Fungi, ants, Capercaillie feathers, small flocks of Redpolls, Siskins and some Crested Tits were all spotted on our walk. We were even lucky enough to see a hen Capercaillie fly from a tree into the dense pines. We stopped for lunch in a field with a fantastic view over the Cairngorms, here we saw Ravens in the distance and through the telescope, watched a Golden Eagle. Several skene’s of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead. Another weekend done and my head was filled with a bit more knowledge than before we began.”

The Winter Weekend

“We had lots of snow on our classroom day so staying cosy in the classroom was ideal, especially with that wood-burning stove! This weekend was about Waders! We learned about different ducks, geese, divers and all the other species we were hoping to see on our field day. We visited a bay further north then onto the Black Isle. We again, had fantastic sightings of a variety of birds. Bramblings, Fieldfare, Redwing, Snipe, Dunlin, Knot, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Scaup, Long-tailed Ducks, Gannets, Shag…. the list really goes on. I didn’t expect to see such a variety of species on a cold winter’s day. It was a little bit bittersweet, knowing this was our last weekend.”

… and finally

“We have all kept in touch on our group Facebook page where we have shared lots of questions and discussions and had lots of quizzes from our instructors Roy and Duncan. It’s been a fantastic year of learning and birding. I’ve started my own list this year to see how many birds I can now identify. I can say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and feel it has given me a fantastic base to further my career.”

Our next 12-month course starts the weekend of 19-20 March and we have a couple of spaces left. More details and an application form can be found online or if you would like to speak to a past participant please get in touch and let us know on 01479 812498.

Funding is also available for women via the 'Women in the Rural Economy Train Fund' again - last year several participants were successful.

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